When you have a baby, you hear so much advice about getting plenty of sleep. There are methods, systems, and entire series of books dedicated to the art of teaching your baby to sleep so you can get some sleep, too. The advice is usually as follows: Breastfeed on demand so they’re getting plenty of calories during the day. Don’t breastfeed on demand or you’ll never get them on a sleep schedule. Let them cry-it-out. Sleep when baby sleeps. And so on and so forth.
As your baby gets older, you'll inevitably hear the following questions: “Is he a good sleeper?” “You look tired. Is he letting you sleep?” “Have you tried crying-it-out yet?” Most new moms find these questions incredibly irritating. Of course my baby isn’t sleeping. Newborns typically don’t, and it’s silly to expect anything else.
Of course, when you tell people you're not getting any sleep, people automatically seem to jump to the conclusion that you're doing something wrong. "If only you were more committed to sleep training," they say. "Then you wouldn't be up all night." Or: "If only you would switch to formula, then your baby would stop eating so often at night." The list goes on and on and on.
I don't think any of this is true. While I believe there are some things you can do to encourage your baby to sleep better, I don’t believe that those methods always work, or that they work perfectly every time. In fact, I’ve grown so accustomed to expecting my babies not to sleep, especially during those first few months, that I’ve developed a tried and true method for getting a little extra shut eye at night.
The term "breastsleeping" is exactly what it sounds like: the mother allows her baby to nurse in bed with her while she sleeps, allowing both mom and baby the opportunity to get some much-needed shuteye. The term itself was coined by infant sleep expert Dr. James McKenna, who runs the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. While there isn't much consensus on whether breastsleeping is safe for infants (the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against it, but McKenna says it's OK when practiced safely), desperate, sleep-deprived moms have likely been breastsleeping for ages.
I’ve breastslept all three of my children. While I know just how controversial breastsleeping (or any type of bed sharing, for that matter) can be, the truth is that breastsleeping during the newborn period absolutely saved me, and I’m not the least bit ashamed of my decision.
As a mom, you frequently hear people to tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. That advice is good in theory — unless, of course, you're on baby number two or baby number three. If you're a mom who's also responsible for keeping the toddlers from jumping off of furniture or ingesting unidentified objects, sleeping when the baby sleeps is a recipe for disaster. There aren't gonna be any power naps for you.
Breastsleeping gave me the opportunity to begin to feel human again.
Moms with multiple little ones at home have to get as much sleep at night as possible, because it is really our only chance to do so. By allowing my newborns to sleep with me after I've cleared off all the extra pillows and removed heavy bedding, per McKenna's safe bed-sharing guidelines, I can get the sleep at night I so desperately need.
This was especially important during the newborn period, when I was already worn out from childbirth and the demands of a hungry baby. Breastsleeping gave me the opportunity to begin to feel human again. Getting more sleep allowed me to begin the postpartum healing process and regain the energy I need to keep up with the demands of parenting young children.
That said, I can’t decide whether breastsleeping is right for you. I know there are a lot of factors that go into deciding if bed-sharing in general is safe or right for your family, but I can say with certainty that breastsleeping is not only right for me, it is a lifeline I needed so badly when there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. When it felt like I would never sleep again, I knew I could pull my son into bed with me and allow him to nurse while I got a few minutes of sleep. Because of that, I have continued to breastsleep and I don’t apologize for my choice. Even though my son is well past the newborn phase, at seven months I still find myself dozing off with him in my bed, nursing. I treasure the closeness I feel with him lying next to me and I certainly feel like it has contributed to a strong bond between us, but most of all, I am grateful for the sleep.